An Open Letter To The Person Who Just Used The Word “Retarded.”


Photo: Brigada Creativa

To The Person Who Just Used The Word “Retarded”,

I know you aren’t a jerk, but you just used the word “retarded” regarding the line at Starbucks.

I know you didn’t think twice about it, it probably just rolled out as you described something that you find worthy of ridicule.

If we’re being honest it probably wasn’t the first time you’ve used it that way right?

You’ve probably used it to describe a movie you didn’t like, or a product you found defective. You’ve probably also said it about a person that you were angry with, or a rule that you think is too restrictive.

I’m not guessing when I say that you aren’t alone in using the word this way, because I hear it all the time. Sometimes it gets said by adults, often by kids. It gets used by “regular Joes” as well as the rich and famous.

I know that a lot of people think that it’s really funny. To get laughs they’ll shorten it to “tard” or over pronounce the “Re”.

I understand that you aren’t attempting to make fun of a person with a mental disability, and in your heart, you don’t believe you are. That’s why you don’t use that word when you are around a person with Down’s Syndrome or Aspergers.

So why use it when you are ridiculing your fully functioning friends?

When you make fun of someone or something by comparing them to a person who was born defenseless and simple, you are revealing that you not only take pride in your alleged superiority, but that those inferior to you deserve to be scorned.

You mind works better than that of a handicapped person.

That’s not something to be proud of.

It’s something to be grateful for.

In the same way that you did nothing to deserve being born with a high functionality, they made no choice about their disability.

You have the ability to be better than this.

Of course it probably also goes without saying that you deeply offend those of us who love, and interact with, the mentally disabled on a regular basis.

When you fire off the word “retarded” as a flippant dismissal it makes me want to introduce you to one of the beautiful people you’ve just made a mocking reference to,


They are somebody you have a moral obligation to look out for, As they have no ability to protect themselves.

You can probably guess why I wouldn’t introduce you to their dad.

We have nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by using the word “retarded”. The people who will highly regard us for using it aren’t the people we want to be respected by, and the ill-will engendered from the thoughtful and compassionate is humiliating.


Please stop using the word.

This isn’t the kind of person you want to be.

And we all need you to be better.

Some of us more than others.


Jon Furman

P.S. I think you probably also know how I feel about the way you used the word “gay” too.

7 Responses to “An Open Letter To The Person Who Just Used The Word “Retarded.””

  1. Meg June 1, 2012 at 11:46 am #

    Right on Jon. Thanks. And I love your P.S.

    • Jon June 1, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

      Thanks Meg.

  2. Joel June 1, 2012 at 11:53 am #

    Such a good post, Jon. Thank you.

    • Jon June 1, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

      Thanks Joel, really appreciate it.

  3. Julie June 1, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

    Thank you. Fighting the use of the word retarded has been one of my personal missions since I was in early high school.

    • Jon June 1, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

      Go get em Julie!

  4. Jennifer Zeman July 11, 2012 at 5:20 am #

    Thank you so much for this letter. My sweet 4 yr old son has Down Syndrome and I never know how to handle this situation. I hear it all the time from good friends and family, and it breaks my heart. I wish you could publish your letter in the sky.

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